Children of Eve (1915)

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Of the many films inspired by the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, Edison's Children of Eve was inarguably the best. Realistically (and very grimly) directed by the unjustly forgotten John H. Collins, the film stars Collins' actress wife Viola Dana as the spunky daughter of a New York sweatshop owner. She remains fully aware of the dangers facing the young female workers -- the shop has no fire escape and only one stairway. Thus, she obtains a job at the shop under an assumed name, intending to collect evidence for the Labor Commission. Alas, a fire breaks out just as management has blocked off the stairway to make sure that the girls won't try to sneak off the job. Dana courageously helps her co-workers escape, only to be trapped in the conflagration herself. It is the heroine's death (a still-startling moment) that awakens her father, and other fat-cat businessmen like him, of the importance of treating workers like human beings rather than caged animals.